There are laws to protect you when you move, but even industry insiders admit they're confusing. Regulations vary from state to state and across state lines and if you don't know your rights, you could be giving rogue movers the chance to take you for a ride.
25-year-old Lauren Richeson's big move to New York had a rocky start. She says she had nothing for her two months in the city because she claims her Maryland-based moving company held her stuff hostage when she wouldn't pay additional fees they added on at delivery. Richeson tells us, "I'm not going to let these people get away with that. They picked the wrong person."
Lauren knew her rights and the law, and that's what eventually helped her get her stuff back after months of hounding the company. But many people go into their moves without the information they need. Louis Campion with the Maryland Motor Truck Association says being uninformed is a major problem, "You want to trust the company you're turning those goods over to."
Campion believes that trust when it comes to a moving company, should be earned over time. But you won't know whether the mover you're choosing is trustworthy unless you do some homework.
In Maryland, movers don't have to register with any state agency, so when you're looking for a moving company, Campion advises asking friends and family for referrals first. Then he says it's important to research complaints through several sources. The Better Business Bureau lists complaints about companies, as does the federal government through the website www.protectyourmove.gov . Campion says the MMTA also has a Registered Movers Directory that details the history of companies that have agreed to meet certain standards with his agency.
Once you've settled on a few potential movers, experts say it's important to get in-home estimates. Campion says you shoot for three if possible. His advice is not to pick your mover solely on price, because some disreputable companies use low estimates as a ploy, "They're purely trying to give you that lowball estimate because he wants to get your goods in hand."
As Lauren Richeson learned, once a mover has your stuff, they're in control. And rogue operators may decide to hold your stuff for ransom, although some states make it easier than others to play hostage. Angie Barnett with the BBB says, "We actually have a regulation here but it doesn't protect us even if we're using a Maryland mover. When we relocated to another state, they may not have the same regulation to protect the consumer."
If you're moving within Maryland, a tough new law says your items can't be held even if there's a dispute about charges. Maryland law also requires a written estimate with a cap on the amount of extra fees that can be added in. Interstate moves are different, according to Campion, who says, "There are protections in place for consumers who move interstate or between state lines."
According to federal regulations, movers can't hold your stuff if you have a binding contract and you paid in full, like Lauren did. The same is true if you have a non-binding estimate and you paid 110% upfront.
All these laws only apply to companies who obey the rules. And in the moving industry, some rogue carriers simply don't care about compliance. Richeson knows that, saying, "They're still out there, still working, still operating and doing jobs."
But before you book someone for your moving job, Campion says you need to fully read and understand the contract you're signing to find out exactly what you're liable for with the move. And be sure to ask if the moving company will move your stuff or if they hire or contract other subsidiaries to handle the job because that could be a risky proposition.
If your items get held hostage, you should file a complaint with the U.S. Department of Transportation's Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration , which oversees interstate movers. You may also want to reach out to advocacy groups like Move Rescue, which help mediate moving disputes.